Mindful Experimentation Through Clay

Clay Art Center partners with Hope House to speak out, give support and create.

I watched a Ted Talk recently focused on society’s tendency to institutionalize gender roles. What was so achingly clear is that we have spent thousands of years telling ourselves and our children how certain things should be, that one way is correct and one way is wrong.  I think we still do.  It is hard to catch yourself doing it, but because we are human we do participate in this kind of classification.  And so I began to really think about the stereotypes and stigmas that are floating around out there today, and how many of those are ever openly advocated against.  The first to come to mind is the stigma around mental illness.  How many of us have actually experienced it; or know someone living with mental illness.  I bet you do. According to the National Institute of Health, one in four American adults-more than 60 million people- experience mental health each year.  Some 14 million live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.

And yet mental illness is often treated as a taboo subject or even worse as some kind of personal failure.  These misconceptions really trick us out of deeply exploring our ideas of what is healthy and unhealthy and how much potential we really have.  Luckily we have art! Art has that unique ability to become both a creative vent and a tool of discovery.  Clay especially as a tactile medium responds to our touch and can be imbued with our thoughts and feelings. Art making is the perfect companion for this kind of self discovery and can be a way to talk about what is really going on in our minds.

At Clay Art Center we recognize the immense power that clay has to tap our innermost thoughts and to challenge us to take risks.  And this is where clay really comes home, each spring we offer free workshops to the members of Hope House, a local branch of theHuman Development Services of Westchester.  This organization right here in Port Chester offers adults living with mental illness a place free of judgment where they can find support, job training and a social network to find comfort in.  During our clay program adults living with mental illness meet in the classroom to talk, laugh and try something new with the guidance of veteran artist, Jeanne Carreau.  Thanks to an anonymous donor these workshops have been offered since 2011 and it is a special opportunity to see just how creative expression really works.  Through clay negative feelings can be found and released offering a sense of calm and focus.  Adults share that they look forward to class each week and taking home their artwork.  Each of these milestones builds confidence, puts skills into practice and most importantly offers a place where everyone can channel their creativity no matter their abilities.  In the classroom the stigma goes away and in its place is a positive new sense of self.

So how do we get rid of the stigma around mental illness?  We can talk about it for one. Take the challenge to speak out, give support and create!

By Ariel Edwards, Clay Art Center Community Arts Director